Ben Stokes: ECB ruling raises more questions over their decision-making<br>



Ben Stokes will be back in the fold and playing for England within four weeks. During the period when Stokes had not been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service after the incident in Bristol in the early hours of 25 September, he was unable to play for England. Now he has been charged, he can play. Which seems a bit odd.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has decided Stokes will resume his international career on 13 February in New Zealand, when England play in a T20 international in Wellington, despite the fact he has been charged with affray. What would they have done if Stokes had not been charged? Invested in a time machine so he could play in the Ashes?

Given the outcome of the ECB’s meeting it is remarkable it did not reach the conclusion earlier. Whether Stokes was to be charged or not now seems to have been an irrelevant issue. So why the delay?

This unexpected decision hints at the myriad of factors the ECB now has to take into account. There is the assumption of innocence until proven otherwise and the expectation that Stokes will plead not guilty, which would elongate the legal process. The ECB referred to the length of time in explaining their decision to allow him to play again, suggesting it would be unfair to maintain the ban given how long the whole process may now take.

But there are also more complicated cricket-related factors that include the imminence of the Indian Premier League auction as well as England’s immediate schedule.

Cricket boards around the world can no longer dictate terms to their players (which may not be a bad thing) as they used to do. Increasingly they have to compete for the services of their best players. An established international can make a living in the various T20 tournaments around the globe, with a contract in the IPL being the prize possession.

Running parallel to the Stokes situation is the debate about Joe Root’s future. As England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss understandably wants his captain to rest during a heavy schedule. Root would like to play as much white-ball cricket as possible to enhance his short-form game and to gain a lucrative IPL contract (here is another example of the openness of the disagreements of Bayliss and Root, which is somehow admirable and healthy). It is already apparent after Root’s selection for England’s T20 matches in New Zealand who is winning that argument.

So the lucky inhabitants of Wellington may have the thrill of seeing Root and Stokes in action in the Cake Tin on 13 February. Root may be exhausted but Stokes will not be. He may be rusty, though. His brief foray to Canterbury in December illustrated he cannot turn on the magic like a tap. He will have to work hard to find match fitness and form and then there will be the problem of the scrutiny that will attend his return.

Stokes’ presence will change the tenor of England’s tour of New Zealand. The microscope on the behaviour of England’s players was intense during the Ashes when Stokes was not there. It may be even more rigorous when he turns up in New Zealand.

Once the inevitable hullabaloo that will surround his return subsides, England should be a stronger side but if he does plead not guilty then the shadow of the trial hanging over Stokes, the team and the ECB will remain. At this stage it is hard to predict when that trial might happen, though the legal process is often slow.